Showing posts with label Top Ten. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Top Ten. Show all posts

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2016

It's that time of the year again when we at Pop Culture Bandit take a look back at the past twelve months of 2000AD covers and pick our Top Ten 2000AD Covers published during 2016. Obviously, this is entirely subjective to us, so if you want to include your own list, please use the comment box below. For reference, the first Prog of the year was Prog 1962 and the various covers can be found at Barney, the unofficial 2000AD database.

For those curious to see our previous Top Ten lists, you can check out the 2013 post here, the 2014 post here and the 2015 post here.

10) 2000AD Prog 2005 by Clint Langley

Clint Langley produced three Flesh covers throughout his run in the tail-end of 2016, and this piece captures the stark brutality of the series perfectly. With father and daughter forced into conflict, Langley’s black and white imagery emphasises the series’ Spaghetti Western influences with its depiction of a pistol duel. Better known for his full-colour work on series such as Slaine and ABC Warriors, this cover is a perfect example of Langley’s skill with a reduced colour palette and his ability to create strong, iconic covers.

9) 2000AD Prog 1979 by Simon Davis

As Vice-President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, it comes as no surprise that this bloodied portrait of Slaine from Simon Davis would feature on the Top Ten Covers list. Not only does Davis infuse the piece with stunning realism (basing Slaine on his own visage) but he also makes use of a wonderful blue and red colour scheme to make the piece stand out. I love the attention to detail here, especially Slaine’s bruised eye and his bloodied beard – yet behind the injuries, the Barbarian’s fierce determination and spirit shines through, making this a wonderful insight into the character.

8) 2000AD Prog 2008 by Rob Davis

Brightly coloured with its yellow backdrop and heavy use of pinks, this Counterfeit Girl cover from Rob Davis captures the spirit of the strip with ease. There’s definitely an anime influence to the piece, which is also evident from the interior artwork provided by Rufus Dayglo – in fact, Davis strives to distinguish his art style from Dayglo, offering a more restrained take on Counterfeit Girl that suits the cover art format. This cover was a welcome contrast to the darker, more brooding pieces that often grace the cover of 2000AD, reinvigorating the Prog ahead of the year’s end.

7) 2000AD Prog 2002 by Jim Murray

I have fond memories of Jim Murray’s work in the late-nineties, particularly on the Batman / Judge Dredd crossover “Die Laughing”, so it is great to see him returning to 2000AD with this brilliant Judge Dredd cover. I love the design that Murray implements here with Dredd in the foreground and the ‘bookmark-style’ strip along the side showcasing the other Judges in his squad in a firefight. The light-blue background suits the cover perfectly, allowing Murray to distinguish between the action in the background and the series' star in the foreground. It’s a great painted cover and I hope there is more to come from Murray in 2017.

6) 2000AD Prog 1989 by INJ Culbard

Brink was definitely one of my highlights of 2016 as Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard introduced readers to a dystopian Soylent Green-esque future in deep space. Filled with twists and turns, each installment was gripping and rich with delicious dialogue and wonderful world-building from two masters of the form. As with his work on Brass Sun, Culbard made use of a POV-style cover to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere as Kurtis falls down a disused elevator shaft after a tense battle with the cultists. I love the immersive nature of this cover, making the reader complicit in Kurtis’ fate. There’s also a brilliant artistic flourish from Culbard as he includes the light glare from Kurtis’ gun as it falls down behind her, adding a real sense of movement to the piece.

5) 2000AD Prog 1973 by Mark Sexton

2000AD has proven itself committed to nurturing new talent, as evidenced from its ThoughtBubble Portfolio competition and its open submission policy for Future Shocks. This year has seen some new artists and script-writers enter the fold, and Mark Sexton has certainly made an impact with his first Judge Dredd story (“Ghosts”) and cover debut. Sexton’s work oozes realism with such impressive level of detail in the architecture and citizens of Mega City-One. His work is very reminiscent of Brian Bolland and Chris Weston, borrowing elements from both artists to create his own distinctive style that suits the world of Judge Dredd perfectly. Hopefully, this will be another rising star in 2000AD’s stable of artists.

4) 2000AD Prog 1997 by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

It wouldn’t be a Top 2000AD Covers article without at least one entry from Cliff Robinson in the list. Easily one of my favourite 2000AD artists, Robinson’s covers have an enormous sense of anarchic fun that dovetails nicely with the magazine’s personality. In a similar vein to his iconic cover for Prog 1854, Robinson references 2000AD itself within the world of Judge Dredd, using the comic to symbolise a sense of rebellion – this time within the Academy of Law. Packed with detail and a wry sense of humour, this is a brilliant example of how to create a 2000AD cover piece that isn’t tied into the events of the Prog at all. It is no wonder that Robinson is one of the magazine’s most prolific cover artists, clocking up almost a hundred covers since Prog 414.

3) 2000AD Prog 1984 by Matt Ferguson

Another first-timer hits the list as 2000AD continues to experiment with new artists. This time, we have Matt Ferguson, a graphic designer and artist who produces film posters and prints through his company, Vice Press. His work highlights the architecture of Mega-City One beautifully, often relegating Dredd to a bit part to showcase the grandeur of the future city. I love the editorial decision to create an Orwell-themed piece of artwork to celebrate reaching Prog 1984, referencing the author’s seminal work. As much of Judge Dredd’s totalitarian themes stem from Orwell’s work, it is a very appropriate homage and Ferguson’s use of greys mixed with a dash of red really helps establish the dystopian future in which the Judges operate. It’s a very impressive piece of art and is also available to purchase from the artist’s website as a print.

2) 2000AD Prog 1986 by Tom Foster

Another art-droid who made their cover debut in 2016 was ThoughtBubble 2013 winner, Tom Foster, who produced this absolutely gorgeous Judge Dredd cover. Despite focusing on the character’s back, this cover captures the lawman’s stern personality perfectly and I love the added touch of the spray-painted Judge’s badge on the emerald green background. Foster has quickly proven himself to be a strong artist, producing some wonderfully detailed and realistic pieces such as his work on “Storm Warning” over in Judge Dredd Megazine. Evocative of Brian Bolland, his work feel quintessentially Judge Dredd in style and I’m sure he will continue to go from strength to strength throughout 2017 – hopefully with a return to interior work in the Prog.

1) 2000AD Prog 1971 by Tiernen Trevallion

Taking the top spot for me was this surprising entry from Tiernen Trevallion, which feels completely different from his work on Absalom and perfectly encapsulates the fantasy tone of The Order, rivalling John Burns’ impeccable work on the interiors. I adore the use of colours in this piece as Trevallion accentuates the gaslight propelling the hot air balloon into the sky – it really helps emphasise the time period. Of course, the giant Wyrm lurching towards our heroes is the standout element of the cover, rife with details and looking much scarier than the graboids from the Tremors series. It’s an absolutely brilliant cover, and a rare example of a guest artist stealing the limelight from the interior artist.

So, what do you think? Do you disagree with my Top Ten? Is there a cover that you think was spectacular and should be included in the list, or do you think one of my favourites is way below par? Feel free to post your thoughts below or on my Facebook and Twitter pages

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Top Ten Recurring Characters from the Final Fantasy series

With fifteen core entries and dozens of spin-off titles, the Final Fantasy series is one of video-gaming's largest franchises ever. Even though most instalments are designed to be stand-alone stories with wildly different settings and main characters, there are many recurring elements that offer a degree of continuity between the titles. For example, there are some thematic similarities seen across games, often involving elemental crystals that power the various planets or guardian forces that protect the world, but the most consistent element is the shared usage of creatures and summonable deities that span the series. With frequent reappearances across all of the titles, it can be hard to imagine a Final Fantasy game without some of these familiar faces. Here at Pop Culture Bandit, we’ve decided to take a look at the Top Ten Recurring Characters from Final Fantasy Games and how they’ve evolved and changed throughout the past twenty years.

10) Malboro
First appearance: "Final Fantasy II"

A recurring enemy throughout the franchise since its first appearance in Final Fantasy II, this fearsome-looking beast is often positioned as a mini-boss, making use of its iconic ‘Bad Breath’ special move to inflict status-ailments on unlucky fighters. Looking like a distant cousin of Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors, this tentacled plant with razor-sharp teeth is the stuff of nightmares and is often seen as a tough battle due to its propensity for inducing poison, sleep and confusion on its foes. With a wonderful visual design that seldom changes from game-to-game, the Malboro is a key element of the Final Fantasy series, inspiring nostalgia with every appearance, no matter how frustratingly awkward their battles can be!

9) Bomb
First appearance: "Final Fantasy II"

Bombs are another common adversary in the Final Fantasy games, appearing in every title since their debut in Final Fantasy II. Shaped like a fireball with a face, Bombs tend to increase in size upon receiving physical attacks until they inevitably explode with a ‘Self Destruct’ attack, dealing high amounts of damage to one unlucky foe. Unsurprisingly, they are resilient to fire damage and weak towards ice attacks. To counter this, most games introduce variant versions of these creatives themed on different elements such as blue-coloured Ice Bombs, or grey Thunder Bombs. These largely look and behave the same, apart from the switch in elemental strengths and weaknesses. With a simplistic fireball shape, the Bombs are relatively consistent throughout the main series, gaining added detail and texture as the graphics of the games increased over time.

8) Tonberry
First appearance: "Final Fantasy V"

A relatively late addition to the Final Fantasy mythology, the Tonberry made its debut in Final Fantasy V and has since become a series mainstay, appearing as both enemy and ally across multiple titles. Tonberries are small, hooded creatures with green skin and beady yellow eyes that gives them a mole-like appearance. Often found in caves, they carry an old-fashioned gas lantern and a small butcher knife that simply adds to their sinister nature. Often slow-paced and very measured in their attacks, the Tonberry many shares characteristics with the Grim Reaper or Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise of movies. Unlike most characters on this list, there is barely any change to the Tonberry design from game-to-game, making it one of the most consistent designs seen in the Final Fantasy universe and ripe for merchandise opportunities.

7) Shiva
First appearance: "Final Fantasy III"

Since her introduction in Final Fantasy III, Shiva has been one of the most frequently recurring summonable deities. Along with Ifrit and Ramuh, she forms part of the trinity of elemental summons – fire, ice and thunder – and as such, features in almost every title. Once summoned in battles, this self-styled ‘goddess of ice’ makes use of her signature move “Diamond Dust” to cause ice damage to all foes. Often portrayed in a semi-nude state, Shiva’s summon sequences are often titillating affairs as the blue-skinned beauty writhes about before causing blizzards to form around her enemies. A permanent fixture of the games, Shiva is often one of the earlier summons acquired in each title, helping players get through some of those tougher battles.

6) Odin
First appearance: "Final Fantasy III"

A recurring summon in the Final Fantasy series, Odin made his initial debut in Final Fantasy III and has appeared regularly ever since, although he is notably absent from Final Fantasy X. While this version of Odin is often seen riding Sleipnir – the eight-legged horse from Norse mythology – he doesn’t share too many visual qualities with his mythic counterpart, instead resembling a demonic knight. One of the more powerful summons available, Odin can perform the “Zantetsuken” move, which causes instant death in the majority of cases as he cuts foes in two, literally. This has been a life-saver in many occasion, cutting short time-consuming battles with a single move.

Interestingly, Odin can actually be defeated during his summon state in Final Fantasy VIII. If a player has acquired Odin before the end of Disc 3, he will appear to assist you against Seifer, only to be killed by the poser SeeD and replaced by Gilgamesh, who retrieves his Zantetsuken sword to add to his collection. This is a nice little Easter egg and a fun twist on the character’s legendary status. Despite this ‘death’ sequence, Odin has reappeared in subsequent games in different guises.

5) Ifrit
First appearance: "Final Fantasy III"

Since his introduction in Final Fantasy III, Ifrit has been positioned as the series’ default fire-based elemental summon, rivalling both Shiva (Ice) and Ramuh (Thunder). Bestial in nature, this horned demon makes use of his signature attack “Hellfire” to deal fire-damage to all opponents. Initially possessing a genie inspired design, Ifrit has grown more feral and beast-like with every subsequent appearance – although his core design of brown-skin and large horns remains unchanged. Personally, his appearance in Final Fantasy VIII might be his definitive design (pictured above) – blending a fiery Minotaur look with a 'jinn' or 'genie' styling. As expected from fire and ice elementals, there is a fierce rivalry between Ifrit and Shiva, and the juxtaposing design of the pair is somewhat reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. Often an early acquired summon, Ifrit can be a firm companion during the initial stages of each game before becoming replaced by more powerful summonable creatures.

4) Bahamut
First appearance: "Final Fantasy"

Bahamut is the archetypal dragon in the Final Fantasy series, first making his appearance in the original Final Fantasy game and appearing in most titles in some form since then. The character also proved popular enough to spin-off into his own game Bahamut Lagoon, and in Final Fantasy VII, there were three versions of the summon: Bahamut, Neo Bahamut and Bahamut ZERO – each with increasingly more powerful moves. While he is always depicted as a huge dragon, his specific design varies from game-to-game as with many of the recurring summons. When summoned from the skies, Bahamut performs his signature move, “Mega Flare” which deals non-elemental magic damage that ignores defence and evasion. Bahamut is typically considered to be the strongest summon in the games he appears in and is often only obtainable after defeating a boss battle – either against the dragon himself or another boss.

3) Cactuar
First appearance: "Final Fantasy VI"

The latest addition to Final Fantasy mythology to appear on this list, the Cactuar made its in-game debut in Final Fantasy VI as an enemy. Since then, the character has been seen as both an enemy and an ally – even appearing as a Guardian Force summon in Final Fantasy VIII. Fast and tough to hit, Cactuars are tricky to defeat before they unleash their trademark “1000 Needles” attack and run from battle, but if players can defeat one, they are usually rewarded with large amounts of Gil and EXP.

For the majority of its appearances, the Cactuar retains its cute and loveable design with stiff arms and legs and three black holes for their faces, but Final Fantasy XI and XII introduced more sinister looking designs that lacked the same charm as the original. Needless to say, the game has reverted back to its iconic design for subsequent instalments and is expected to appear in Final Fantasy XV in its usual style. One of the cuter monsters from the Final Fantasy bestiary, the Cactuar has had several pieces of merchandises made of it, including a plush cuddly toy.

2) Chocobo
First appearance - "Final Fantasy II"

A prominent part of the series since their debut in Final Fantasy II, the Chocobo could easily be considered the series’ mascot. These huge chicken creatures act as the Final Fantasy equivalent of Horses and appear as a ride-able transport option in almost every game. Notably, there is a breeding sub-quest in Final Fantasy VII where players can play cupid with the Chocobos to breed coloured variants that help traverse the various areas of the map. Further to that, players can also use their customised Chocobos in the Gold Saucer races, creating a surprisingly in-depth side quest that is equally as enthralling as the main game itself.

Often seen in its common yellow plumage, Chocobos can be found in Black, White, Green, Blue and the highly-sought after Gold variant. Aside from acting as the main form of transport for the series, Chocobos also appear as a summonable creature - such as the Fat Chocobo, who lands on foes dealing non-elemental damage. The design of the Chocobo has been relatively consistent across all titles, becoming more and more realistic looking as the graphics improve. As with Bahamut, the characters have proved so popular, they have spun off into their series of Chocobo games, most of which are available only in Japan.

The Chocobo is such an essential part of the Final Fantasy mythology that quite simply, it doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game without them in attendance.

1) Moogle
First appearance - "Final Fantasy III"

Somewhat controversially, I am going to pick the Moogle over the Chocobo to be my pick for the Top Recurring Character from the Final Fantasy series. While the Chocobo is cute and popular enough to spawn its own series of games, I love the innocence mouse-like design of the Moogle. Obsessed with Kupo Nuts, the Moogle first made its appearance in Final Fantasy III and has appeared in every title since, with the exception of Final Fantasy IV.

Unlike the Chocobo, the Moogle has been subject to a great deal of redesign over the years, although they often maintain their small bat-like wings and pom-pom hanging from their heads. The most drastic change occurred in Final Fantasy XII were the Moogles moved away from their traditional mouse-themed design to a more rabbit-orientated look. Luckily this redesign only lasted for this one title and the Final Fantasy Tactics handheld spin-offs, and the traditional look was restored for subsequent games.

My favourite outing for the Moogle has to be Final Fantasy IX where the characters acted as the game's save-points, using a MogNet mailing system to tell a story about a travelling Mog called Stiltskin, whose travels mirrored that of the player. It was a nice idea, and subsequently the characters have been used in an advisory or tutorial capacity in games. While they aren’t as universally popular as the Chocobo, the fact they can talk and are cuddly, little white puffs of fur means that they hit the top of our list! Equally as essential to the franchise as the Chocobo, the Moogle is a vital part of each Final Fantasy game, injecting a light-hearted tone into even the most serious of Final Fantasy titles, kupo!

What do you think – is there a recurring creature from the Final Fantasy mythology missing from our list here? Or do you think Chocobos are far more important to the franchise than Moogles? Do you have a favourite moment from any of the creatures above that you wish to share? Feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts on this list, or message us on our social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Top Ten Doctor Who Monsters introduced since 2005

If you asked someone to name a Doctor Who monster, they’d probably reply with “Daleks” or possibly “Cybermen” but the series has had a plethora of different creatures throughout the lifetime of the show. Interestingly, since its reboot back in 2005, Doctor Who has made a concerted effort to create brand-new creatures to scare children into hiding behind the sofa rather than relying on the old favourites. Here at Pop Culture Bandit, we’ve taken a look at the 'Top Ten Doctor Who Monsters that have been introduced since 2005' to see just how successful some of these new creations have become.

10) The Hath
First appearance: "The Doctor's Daughter"

Engaged in a brutal war against the humans on the planet Messaline, the fish-like Hath have a fantastic visual design with purple-tinged scaly skin and their distinctive breathing apparatus, filled with a bubbling green liquid. Despite their initially violent appearance, the Hath were revealed to be a friendly race, helping Martha Jones reunite with the Doctor and Donna when she finds herself separated from them. The Hath have made brief cameo appearances since their debut in “The Doctor’s Daughter”, and are often used as ‘token aliens’ to fill out scenes in an alien bar as seen in “The End of Time (Part 2)” or “The Magician’s Apprentice

9) The Gangers
First appearance: "The Rebel Flesh"

The Gangers were cloned humans made from an organic substance called ‘The Flesh’ – used by industrial workers to perform dangerous and potentially deadly tasks, the Gangers were seen as disposable duplicates and easily replaceable. After a freak solar storm, the Gangers gained independent thought and personalities and demanded equality through violence towards their operators. The Gangers had a creepy yet effective visual design, with the creatures having doughy, featureless faces that resembled the look of the host. The episodes in which the monsters debuted were very atmospheric and dealt with questions surrounding identity and what it means to be human – common plot devices used in science-fiction.

8) The Whisper Men
First appearance: "The Name of the Doctor"

The Whisper Men were a group of featureless monsters that served the Great Intelligence, acting as ‘the muscle’ to influence the Eleventh Doctor to travel to Trenzalore and visit his grave in “The Name of the Doctor”. With a Victorian look, the top hat wearing creatures were reminiscent of the creepy Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Hush”, in that they possessed a similar ethereal, otherworldly presence. Speaking whispered rhymes, the creatures conjured up a suitably creepy atmosphere in the episode, and the moment when they attacked Vastra and Jenny was spine-chillingly effective, given that the pair were in deep meditation and in the astral plane. While they have only appeared in a single episode, they made a strong impact and presented themselves as a worthy physical manifestation for the Great Intelligence compared to the Yeti and the Snowmen.

7) Vashta Nerada
First appearance: "Silence in the Library"

While “Silence in the Library” is more famous for introducing River Song into the Doctor Who mythology, the episode also brought the creepy Vashta Nerada into play. Created by Steven Moffat, the unseen creatures lived in the shadows and consumed humans right down to their bones – throughout the two-part storyline, they were represented by skeletal remains in spacesuits, communicating via the recorded memories of the dead they absorbed. As typical for a Moffat creation, the monster stems from an inherent fear – in this instance, shadows – and the storyline involved the ever-declining cast of space archaeologists attempting to avoid touching their own and other people’s shadows. The creatures are similar to the flesh-eating Kryll from the Gears of War series, equally as carnivorous and confined to the shadows, but the Vashta Nerada have the added creepiness of being microscopic and stealthy in their attacks. Inhabiting the corpses of the recently deceased to chase down the survivors is a particularly horrific touch that feels ripped straight out of horror movie.

6) The Adipose
First appearance: "Partners in Crime"

While most of the creatures on this list look scary or horrific, the Adipose are actually the opposite and resemble cute little blobs of marshmallow with cute bead-like eyes and a sole tooth. As adorable as they may seem, the creatures were actually born from the fat molecules of people who’d been taking a mysterious diet pill. The scene where one woman spontaneously combusts into dozens of Adipose is actually quite unsettling, especially given the cartoon-like nature of the monsters. While the main villain of the piece is Sarah Lancashire’s Miss Foster – the whole episode is a light-hearted romp to celebrate the return of Donna Noble and never really gets overly threatening. That said, the characters definitely struck a chord with the Doctor Who fanbase and are rare example of a ‘good monster’ in the series.

5) The Judoon
First appearance: "Smith and Jones"

Presented as inter-planetary peace-keepers, the Judoon are a race of alien rhinoceroses that enforce the law without question and ambiguity. Neither good nor bad, the creatures have a rather mercenary style to their policing and work with the Shadow Proclamation to capture alien criminals. Since their debut in “Smith and Jones”, the characters have appeared frequently in the TV show itself as a background alien race in episodes such as “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Magician’s Apprentice”. They are also one of the few “New Who” monsters to prolifically appear in spin-off media, such as comics and books, most notably the BBC NovelsJudgement of the Judoon” and “Revenge of the Judoon”. The frequency of their appearances showcases their popularity amongst fans, and in terms of the series, they perform an important role as a ‘peace-keeper’ force.

4) The Ood
First appearance: "The Impossible Planet"

With a face that resembles me attempting to eat spaghetti, the Ood made their dramatic debut in “The Impossible Planet” as a slave race eventually possessed by a malevolent force and turned into aggressive killers. The creatures were fleshed out more in subsequent appearances such as the Season Four episode, “Planet of the Ood”, which again saw the normally peaceful creatures driven to commit bloodthirsty attacks. Visually, the creatures share similarities with the Sensorites from the First Doctor serial “The Sensorites”, and they were later confirmed to be from the same solar system. The creatures straddle the grey area between peaceful and aggressive species, fluctuating between both roles due to their tendency to be possessed by outside threats. They have a strong visual presence, thanks to their distinctive costume design, and have reappeared in the series numerous times, becoming a common staple in the Doctor Who universe since 2005.

3) The Silence
First appearance: "The Impossible Astronaut"

Much like The Whisper Men, The Silence bear a striking resemblance to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Gentlemen”, conjuring up a haunting juxtaposition of an alien dressed in a business suit. Quite why they dress so snazzy is beyond me, considering that they cause instant amnesia to people who look away from them. Debuting in “The Impossible Astronaut”, their wizened face and ‘grey alien’ design really helps the creatures stand out as they encapsulated that Area 51 zeitgeist of 1960’s America, which was used to great effect in the Season Six opener. The amnesia angle is an interesting one, and a typical Moffat high-concept idea, but it does make the creatures a bit of a one-note monster – especially when the likes of Madame Kovarian install electronic eye-patches displaying their form to prevent the amnesia. With the Trenzalore / Silence story-arc behind him, it is unlikely that The Silence will ever reappear, but they made a dramatic impact to the Doctor Who universe during the Eleventh Doctor's era.

2) The Boneless
First appearance - "Flatline"

The most recent entry to the list comes from Season Eight’s corker of an episode, “Flatline”, which was a Doctor-lite episode and saw Clara adopt the role of the Doctor to protect a group of citizens from the deadly Boneless. Attempting to bridge the gap between the second and third dimension, the episode saw the creatures trying to become fully 3D, whilst reducing their victims to 2D drawings in the process. It was a spectacular visual and the imaginative monsters symbolise all that is great about Doctor Who, so it was little surprise that the episode was one of the most well-received of the season. Aside from their debut televised appearance, the creatures even appeared in comic-book form in The Twelfth Doctor (Vol. 2) # 6 - a wonderfully inventive tale that played about with the confines of the comic format to deliver a tale equally as stunning as “Flatline”. There’s plenty of potential for these creatures to become the next breakout monster in the Doctor Who franchise.

1) The Weeping Angels
First appearance - "Blink"

It’s no surprise that the Weeping Angels have topped this list – ever since their first appearance in the Doctor-lite episode “Blink”, these creatures have become a firm favourite amongst fans – with plenty of merchandise and televised appearances since then. One of Steven Moffat’s earliest original creations for the series, the Weeping Angels managed to make “blinking” scary and preyed upon the innate fear of statues moving when we’re not looking at them.

The ingenious idea works on a horror level, and over the years, the Weeping Angels have become more of a stock villain type, rather than the mysterious and haunting creature from their debut episode. The characters also made a comic book appearance in the excellent Tenth Doctor adventure, “The Weeping Angels of Mons”, which transplanted them into World War One – a perfect time period for the creatures to exist in.

Creatures that can kill you with only a touch, but are render immobile when you are looking at them – it’s a fantastic concept and is executed in style with such an iconic design. Who can forget that moment in “Flesh and Stone” when we first see them move on-screen – it was absolutely terrifying! The Weeping Angels are definitely the best monster to be introduced in Doctor Who since 2005, without a doubt, even giving the Cybermen and Daleks a run for their money in terms of sheer scariness!

What do you think – is there a Doctor Who monster missing from our list here? Or do you think the Ood are creepier than the Weeping Angels? Feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts on this list, or message us on our social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Top Ten 2000AD Covers in 2015

It's that time of the year again when we at Pop Culture Bandit take a look back at the past twelve months of 2000AD covers and pick our Top Ten 2000AD Covers published during 2015. Obviously, this is entirely subjective to us, so if you want to include your own list, please use the comment box below. For reference, the first Prog of the year was Prog 1912 and the various covers can be found at Barney, the unofficial 2000AD database.

For those curious to see our previous Top Ten lists, you can check out the 2013 post here, and the 2014 post here.

10) 2000AD Prog 1919 by John Higgins

This fantastic painted cover from veteran art droid John Higgins celebrates 2000AD's 38th anniversary in style with a wonderfully graffiti-inspired design. Higgins manages to capture the enigmatic look of Tharg the Mighty and the drips of paint that run down the page just emphasises the distinctive 'spray paint' style. I love this understated and somewhat mature take on an anniversary cover, which manages to evoke the sci-fi elements of the anthology inside.

9) 2000AD Prog 1924 by Brian Bolland

Prog 1924 saw another veteran art droid return to the Prog in the form of Brian Bolland, one of the legendary Judge Dredd artists. Rather than focusing on his iconic take on the Mega City One law-man, Bolland also turned his hand to bringing 2000AD's other two “leading men” to life. While it goes without saying that Bolland absolutely nails his Dredd, it was his take on Slaine and Johnny Alpha that was a complete revelation to me. I particularly liked his version of Slaine, which captured the timeless essence of the character perfectly.

8) 2000AD Prog 1934 by Simon Davis

Simon Davis’ work on Slaine has been simply amazing with his fully painted art style bringing the character to life in a fresh and exciting way. Here, he gets to play with the character’s trademark warp-spasm, resulting in a grotesque image of bulging eyeballs, torn flesh and a tongue that wouldn’t look out of place in a certain black-suited symbiote’s mouth. I’d long been waiting to see Simon Davis’ take on the warp-spasm and he did not disappoint one bit.

7) 2000AD Prog 1954 by INJ Culbard

One of my favourite moments from the previous Brass Sun chapter, “Floating Worlds” was the gut-punch revelation that Arthur had massacred General Pei and the Mercantile Guild. It was such a shocking moment that changed the tone of the strip – here, INJ Culbard revisits that moment, creating tension and dread for the readers with the image of Arthur once again cutting a bloody path in his single-minded attempt to get his hands on Wren and the Blind Watchmaker inside her head. It’s a fabulous image that makes the reader want to rip open the pages and devour the entire episode of Brass Sun in one go. Which I did…

6) 2000AD Prog 1920 by Dylan Teague

This is a wonderfully engaging cover from Dylan Teague, bringing the reader face to face with one of the Grinders from Savage. I love the shock value of the gun coming out of the woman’s mouth, and I can only imagine the reaction that people would have seeing this on the newsagent shelf. The decision to frame it from the reader’s POV is an inspired one, literally sucking onlookers into the art itself. I also love the rich and evocative colour palette used, which works well to direct the reader’s eye towards the deadly weapon emerging from her oesophagus.

5) 2000AD Prog 1947 by Henry Flint

There’s a hauntingly eerie quality to this cover which sees Judge Dredd riding his unlikely equine savior into action – I love the stark white of the background here, placing all of the focus on Henry Flint’s spectacular Dredd. It’s a powerful image that presents Dredd as the sheriff of his town, riding into danger to confront Aimee Nixon. There was a number of Judge Dredd covers during the "Enceladus: Old Life" storyline, but this one – along with another later in the list – really stood out as my favourites.

4) 2000AD Prog 1959 by Cliff Robinson & Dylan Teague

This fantastic Judge Dredd cover from Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague also adopts a POV perspective, placing the reader in the role of a citizen recording a brutal beating – mirroring the story shown inside. I love the way Robinson places the main focus of the cover within the screen of the cellphone, making an interesting statement about how we seem to be living our lives through our mobile devices. It’s easily the most inventive use of space seen in a 2000AD cover this year, creating a cover that tells its own story in one dynamic image.

3) 2000AD Prog 1940 by Greg Staples

2015 has been a fantastic year for Greg Staples fans with the amazing “Dark Justice” storyline at the start of the year, supported by a number of excellent painted covers. Surprisingly, this entry was actually a cover for “Enceladus: Old Life”, but it remains one of my favourite covers by the artist throughout the year. I love the slightly tilted angle of the central image of Dredd on his Lawmaster, emphasising speed as he ploughs through the icy wasteland that Mega-City One had become. It’s a wonderfully evocative image, capturing the sub-zero climate that drove the action in the “Enceladus: Old Life” storyline.

2) 2000AD Prog 1938 by Neil Roberts

Sometimes a simple image can be much more effective for a front cover than a complicated detail-driven piece. Neil Roberts encapsulates this idea with this absolutely brilliant Judge Dredd cover that makes use of blank space to great effect. I love the energy of this piece, with Dredd punching one unfortunate Emerald Isle citizen out of the strip and into the white space of the cover. It evokes the feeling of a bar-room brawl perfectly, with people being thrown out of windows and tables turned over. I also love the decision to use a green and white colour scheme, subtly representing the Irish setting of the “Blood of the Emeralds” storyline.

1) 2000AD Prog 1915 by Greg Staples

It may not come as a shock to see this cover from Greg Staples appearing at the top spot of this list as it features all the core ingredients that makes up a truly fantastic 2000AD cover. It has a POV shot that brings the reader into the art, it’s fully painted and features Judge Dredd, and it is a relatively simple idea. Greg Staples kicked off 2015 in style with the amazing “Dark Justice” storyline and this cover image is the pinnacle of his achievements during those opening months. I love the turquoise colour scheme in the background, it’s so foreboding and suits the image perfectly – I also love the tilted perspective – which Staples also used later on in his Prog 1940 cover to equally great effect. Having Judge Death reaching out to the reader is a fantastic visual device, heightening the creepiness of the piece and engaging the reader – oh, and a special ‘well done’ goes to the pun droid for the pitch-perfect “fiends reunited” tagline that acts as the icing on the cake.

So, what do you think? Do you disagree with my Top Ten? Is there a cover that you think was spectacular and should be included in the list, or do you think one of my favourites is way below par? Feel free to post your thoughts below or on my Facebook and Twitter pages

Friday, 17 July 2015

Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals

Sequels. They always promise to improve upon the originals, but they seldom do. It’s hard to replicate the elements that people enjoyed in the first film without repeating the same formula (The Hangover – Part II) and if you make too many changes, you end up with a film that utterly ruins the franchise (Batman and Robin). It’s a fine line to walk, and as recent releases Mad Max: Fury RoadJurassic World and Terminator: Genisys prove, Hollywood is still determined to add new installments to their greatest franchises. Here, at Pop Culture Bandit, we've taken a look at the Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals.

10) Superman II (1980)

There’s no denying that the original Superman: The Movie is a classic. It nailed that grand operatic tone of the character’s epic origin story – hitting all the right narrative beats (Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis) as it brought the comic book characters to life. On its own, it still stands tall as one of the greatest interpretations of the Superman mythos – filled with a great deal more heart and humanity than its ultra-grim reboot, Man of Steel.

However, Superman II completely surpasses the original in almost every way, building upon the foundations set up in the first movie to create even more action and a greater threat to Metropolis through the appearance of General Zod, Ursa and Non – three Kryptonian criminals who have escaped with the aim of conquering Earth. No longer was Superman dealing with the buffoonish Lex Luthor, but instead he had three equally-powered rivals to deal with.

Not only were the action sequences much better in this sequel, but the romantic sub-plot between Clark Kent and Lois Lane was explored in more detail, with her discovering his true identity. It’s one of the best renditions of the Superman/Lois Lane relationship I've ever seen, even if it does get retconned at the end with Clark Kent’s “memory-loss kiss”. Sure, there are a few areas where the script falters, but overall this feels like a stronger film – exploring the character in greater depth through the removal of his superpowers.

9) Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The sequel to the 2002 smash-hit, Spider-Man, wisely follows the Superman II formula, in that it further complicates the romantic sub-plot between the hero and his leading lady, whilst having him losing his powers and temporarily going into retirement. With the origin story out of the way, Sam Raimi is able to have some fun with the Spider-Man character, introducing the villainous Doctor Octopus, who is brought to life with some amazing CGI and props. Raimi’s creepy cinematic direction, perfected in his horror movies, comes to the fore here as he treats Octavius’ metallic arms as sentient snapping beasts, giving them plenty of close-up shots.

Doctor Octopus makes more a more visually interesting villain compared to the original’s Green Goblin. Even though, the climactic scene on the bridge was impressive – it lacked the same frenetic energy seen with later Goblin battles (Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2). However those scenes with Doc Ock fighting Spider-Man aboard the train hold up even now. Sure, subsequent sequels and reboots have featured more extensive fight sequences and bigger budgets, but much like Superman II before it, most of Spider-Man 2’s charm comes from its heart. That final sequence where Mary Jane appears in her wedding dress at Peter’s crummy apartment still manages to give me goose-bumps, and although the relationship is shit all over in Spider-Man 3, it is a great moment for the character. Ultimately out of all the Spider-Man films, it is Spider-Man 2 that has the most resonance for me and the best in the franchise.

8) Evil Dead II (1987)

Dubbed as a “video nasty” in the UK, the original Evil Dead was a low-budget gore-filled extravaganza that saw a fresh-faced Bruce Campbell taking on the undead forces within the Necronomicon. Revelling in the horror and brutal violence of the genre, there are very few laughs to be had - it wasn’t until the sequel, Evil Dead II, that the franchise’s now-iconic dark sense of humour kicked in.

The initial five minutes of Evil Dead II serve as an abridged retelling of the original, as we watch the character of Ash turn from a victim into an enduring hero with a bevy of witty one-liners (“Groovy”). There’s a more playful tone to the ultra-violence in this installment, whether it be Ash bashing the possessed head of his girlfriend against the furniture to stop it from biting him, or the iconic sequence where a flying eyeball lands in the mouth of an unfortunate red-neck. It’s clear that this horror isn’t meant to be taken as seriously as its earnest predecessor.

One highlight is the scenes with Ash’s possessed hand, which inject a Buster Keaton-esque slapstick segment into the film, forcing the audience to alternate between fits of laughter and wide-eyed terror. With a bigger budget, better storyline and pitch-perfect blend of horror and comedy, Evil Dead II is a superior film to the original and easily the highlight in the franchise, which moves further into humour than horror. However, the recently announced Ash vs. The Evil Dead TV series could prove to be a worthy successor to Evil Dead II’s crown.

7) Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 stands out for being the only “three-quel” on this list, and also has the honour of surpassing both of its predecessors. While the original Toy Story film focused on Woody being replaced by a new and more exciting toy, this instalment sees all of Andy’s toys faced with retirement. Those cunning guys at Pixar use this scenario as an analogue for the human condition, making parallels between the plight of the toys and our own frail mortality.

While it is still a children’s movie at heart, the adult themes in Toy Story 3 feel more pronounced and emotionally resonant than in the preceding chapters. While some laud Jessie’s flashback sequence in Toy Story 2 as a highlight of the trilogy, this movie takes that theme of rejection and spins a whole movie out of it.

I was literally on the edge of my seat in the cinema when the toys held each other’s hands and prepared to face their end in the incinerator, and I still have a lump in my throat whenever I watch the sequence where Andy says goodbye to them for the last time. Pixar just nailed it with this movie, which makes me concerned about the upcoming Toy Story 4, and whether it will undo the good work of the original trilogy. And, for those who think Pixar can do no wrong… just look at Cars 2!

6) Dawn of the Dead (1978)

The original Night of the Living Dead marks a cultural milestone in the horror genre with director, George A. Romero, responsible for westernising the Zombie and moving it away from its Voodoo roots. Clearly a classic, and supremely influential, the film has gone on to inspire generations of movie-makers with countless zombie-themed movies in its wake. However, the original 1968 movie, shot in black and white and on a shoe-string budget, isn't as narratively rich as its sequel, 1978's Dawn of the Dead, which delivered a full-colour masterpiece that is quite possibly “the best zombie movie ever”.

Known to many as the “Zombies in the Mall” movie, Dawn of the Dead allowed Romero to make statements about commercialism and the human condition, creating more depth to the film and raising it beyond a blood splattered gore-fest. Clocking in at almost three-hours (depending on the cut you watch) the film feels epic in nature, despite taking place in one location for the majority of the movie. The decision to set the movie in a shopping mall is genius, taking that child-like wish of living in a shop and running with it. It's such an iconic concept that it even inspired Capcom to create a computer game, Dead Rising, allowing players to live out that fantasy themselves.

Romero manages to capture a bleak, hopeless tone for his four survivors as they attempt to carve out a close approximation to life before the outbreak. He injects moments of levity into proceedings, particularly when the quartet make the mall into their home, but ultimately the downbeat nature of life in this new world overwhelms their brief attempt at “happy families”. While no-one can deny the historical importance of Night of the Living Dead, its sequel is a far more enjoyable and visually impressive zombie movie. Unfortunately, Romero's handle on the zombie genre does begin to slip after his second sequel, Day of the Dead, with the subsequent movies lacking the same biting social commentary and impact as his original trilogy.

5) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The original Star Wars adopted a fairy-tale inspired structure for its narrative with a young ‘prince’ trained by his mentor to rescue the princess from the dark lord, almost singlehandedly defeating the forces. Clearly an iconic film, even in its original 1977 incarnation, it laid down the foundations for the franchise for decades to come and inspired legions of film-makers and science fiction writers. It made sci-fi cool and mainstream, and spawned hundreds of expanded universe stories.

The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, released three years later offers a more downbeat vision of the Star Wars universe with the Empire taking steps to quash the rebellion and Han Solo’s eventual capture by Boba Fett. It also delves deeper into the lore of the Jedi and Sith, culminating in that iconic reveal of “I am your Father”, which while often parodied now, was innovative and shocking at the time.

The film is also filled with some spectacular visual set-pieces, that pushed the SFX envelope back then – something the series has done consistently generation after generation. Scenes such as the Battle of Hoth and the Cloud City duel between Luke and Vader are permanently etched on the collective consciousness of all pop culture geeks.

Personally, Star Wars works best when things are bleak, dark and brooding - that’s why Revenge of the Sith stood out as the most interesting entry in the prequel trilogy. Lucas’ continual interference to lighten up the universe (Ewoks and Jar Jar) stick out and weaken those installments, while the darker entries into the saga shine above the rest. It will be interesting to see where J.J Abrams takes The Force Awakens this December. Judging from the trailer, it looks to capture elements of The Empire Strikes Back.

4) The Dark Knight (2008)

The Batman film franchise was in pretty bad shape after 1997’s Batman & Robin – the Gothic charm of Tim Burton’s films had given way to a garish, campy romp that dragged the series back to the goofiness 1966 Adam West TV series. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was an antidote to this, bringing forth a refreshing sense of realism to the Batman mythos that surpassed the gritty approach seen in Batman and Batman Returns. In fact, Nolan’s trilogy makes those films seem as equally campy as the awful Batman & Robin.

Retelling the Batman origin story in greater detail than ever seen before on-screen, Batman Begins effortlessly rebuilds credibility in the Batman franchise, riffing on classic comic storylines such as Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and providing Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow with their cinematic debuts. However, it isn’t until the second film, The Dark Knight that the magic really begins. Heath Ledger’s Joker completely steals the film away from Christian Bale’s Batman, relegating the titular character to a foundering pawn throughout most of the film and taking the viewer on a breath-taking journey through insanity.

The beauty of The Dark Knight is the way that it feels less like a superhero movie and more like a bonafide crime thriller. Remove the capes and make-up, and the film works just as well – it’s like Michael Mann’s Heat but with superheroes! Ledger’s performance carries the film with his interpretation of the Joker rewriting the rule-book on how the character should be played. Every scene he appears in is simply mesmerizing with his awkward, unpredictable behaviour genuinely unsettling the audience. As it is, the film is probably one of the greatest examinations of the Batman / Joker relationship there is, standing proudly next to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and the Batman: Arkham Asylum video-games. While The Dark Knight Rises was an equally impressive movie, it doesn’t quite have the same iconic confidence as its predecessor.

3) Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

The original Mad Max was a low-budget Australian movie that achieved enough success overseas to warrant a sequel, however, the studio was afraid that the original wasn’t well-known enough in America so they re-titled the movie to “The Road Warrior” and removed references to it being a sequel. The standalone nature to the movie enabled the film to be enjoyed on its own, with audiences unaware that it was actually the second film in the series – ultimately, the success of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior led to the studios releasing the original on VHS as “the thrilling predecessor to The Road Warrior”.

Mad Max 2 dramatically surpasses the original with a much larger budget, better special effects and a stronger atmosphere. The iconic post-apocalyptic visuals of the Australian outback have influenced a bevy of film-makers and science fiction writers ever since, fuelling the genre for decades. George Miller’s sequel is filled with impressive automobile stunts, with its climactic chase sequence standing out with its intense and exhilarating stunt-work. Even the most recent iteration, Mad Max: Fury Road, has relied on using real stunts over cheap and easy CGI effects. The film was so popular with American audiences that it launched Mel Gibson’s career in Hollywood, leading to the Lethal Weapon films and his eventual melt-down.

2) Aliens (1986)

Picking up from Ridley Scott’s tense claustrophobic horror, Alien, James Cameron ups the ante and sends the main protagonist, Ellen Ripley, back to the xenomorph’s home planet with a squad of space marines for company. With more Aliens, more cannon fodder and more action, Cameron’s take on the series moves it away from the horror genre of the original and towards action-adventure. While David Fincher’s Alien 3 attempted to return it back to suspense-filled horror of the original, the franchise is ultimately more recognisable as a sci-fi action with the Alien vs. Predator spin-offs and video-game tie-ins. While both approaches work for the series, I prefer the action-heavy style implemented by Cameron.

While Alien had an interesting blend of characters in the Nostromo’s crew of space junkers, Aliens introduces a small battalion of space marines with varied personalities and brilliant one-liners. Characters like Hicks, Hudson and Bishop stand out from the crowd, thanks to a strong script and performances, causing the audience to react when they are placed in peril against the nest of xenomorphs. Another strength is Ripley’s maternal relationship with the orphaned girl, Newt, which forms an emotional core to the story that was lacking in Alien. That climactic scene where Ripley returns to the colony to confront the Alien Queen and rescue Newt is simply breath-taking and encapsulates the whole Alien franchise for me. It’s a pinnacle that the series has yet to reach since with its countless sequels and spin-offs.

1) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Much like with Alien and Aliens, James Cameron’s approach to the Terminator sequel was to switch genres from horror to action, whilst increasing the budget and the number of antagonists. It’s a formula that obviously pays off, delivering a follow-up movie that surpasses the original and still holds up in the wake of subsequent installments. On a personal note, Terminator 2: Judgment Day might be my favourite movie ever – it’s a blend of the script, the action, the pioneering (for the time) special effects and the sense of humour that comes together to deliver the ultimate film experience. Sure, it may look a bit dated in places now, but that’s all part of the charm, with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator still exemplifying coolness with his leather jacket, motorcycle and pump-action shotgun.

Wisely moving the T-800 to the side of the humans, Cameron is able to place Arnold Schwarzenegger in a heroic role, playing upon his recent box office successes with Commando, Predator and Total Recall. It’s this unorthodox paternal relationship between the T-800 and the teen John Connor that drives the film and it’s interesting to note that the recent Terminator: Genisys has replicated this pattern, but with a young Sarah Connor instead.

Robert Patrick’s T-1000, or the “Liquid Metal Terminator”, works perfectly as the antagonist for the film, ruthlessly pursuing John Connor with an expressionless passion. The special effects on the T-1000 were amazing at the time and still hold up well now, even if his full-liquid metal form looks a bit too shiny and The Lawnmower Man-esque. The scenes where he takes damage, absorbing gunshots into its liquid metal form, stand out the most - particularly the moment where he is shot point-blank range in the head. He comes across as an invincible foe – making Arnie’s T-800 feel outdated and vulnerable.

There are so many amazing set-pieces in the film, such as the motorbike chase sequence, the T-1000 hunting Sarah Connor in the mental hospital and the moment where the nitrogen-frozen T-1000 shatters into thousands of pieces, only to reform moments later. Much like Aliens, it builds upon its predecessor but delivers a meatier storyline and much more action, whilst defining the series for years to come.

So, that’s our list of the Top Ten Movie Sequels that Surpassed the Originals – do you agree with our list? Is there anything you feel was missed out? Let us know in the comments box below, or via our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
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